Presl, Karel Boriwoj

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(b. Prague, Czechoslovakia, 17 February 1794; d. Prague. 2 October 1852)


As a youth Presl explored the countryside in Bohemia with his brother Jan and developed an interest in natural history. Under the guidance of W. Seidl, they collected a herbarium of cryptogamous plants and in 1812 published a work on the cryptogamous flora of Bohemia. Karel subsequently went to Charles University to study medicine and during that time traveled to Italy and Sicily, where he met the well-known botanists Michele Tenore and Giovanni Gussoni. Following this visit he published a work on the grasses and sedges of Sicily and then, in 1826, his first major work. Flora sicula, which dealt with the vascular plants (both cultured and wild) of that country.

In 1818 Presl received the doctorate in medicine and later in obstetrics but made only brief use of these qualifications; in 1822 he was appointed custodian at the National Museum in Prague at the instigation of its director, Kaspar von Sternberg. His first task was to sort Thaddaeus Haenke’s large collection of plants from South America and the Mariana and Philippine islands. Presl also edited an account of Haenke’s specimens in Reliquiae Haenkeanae, a two-volume folio published between 1825 and 1835. Many of the specimens were of previously unknown species, and Presl chose a complete set of these for his own herbarium, which he took with him when, in 1836, he accepted the chair of natural history and technology at Charles University.

As the result of his study of Haenke’s ferns, Presl himself began anatomical and morphological studies of ferns; and he established an entirely new classification, which he described in Tentamen Pteridographiae (1836). This work was followed in 1844 by an account of Hymenophyllaceae and in 1846 by his studies of Marattiaceae and more primitive ferns (Supplementum Tentaminis Pteridographiae, 1846). In his last major work, Epimeliae botanicae (1851), which he completed shortly before his death, he described many new species and several new genera that were noted in material from various sources, particularly Hugh Cuming’s research in the Philippines and southeast Asia.

Presl bequeathed his herbarium to the Botanical Institute of Charles University, where it is still preserved.


I. Original Works. Presl’s works include Reliquiae Haenkeanae, sea descriptionset icones plantarum, quas in America meridionali et boreali, in insulis Philippinis et Marianis collegit Thadaeus Haenke, 2 vols. (Prague, 1825-1835); Flora sicula, exhibens plantas vasculosas in Sicilia aut sponte crescentes aut frequentissime cultas, secundum systema naturale digestas (Prague, 1826); Symbolae botanicae, sive descriptiones et icones plantarum novarum aut minus cognitarum, 2 vols. (Prague, 1830-1858); Tentamen pteridographiae, seu genera filcacearum praesertim juxta vena rum decursum et distributionem exposita (Prague, 836), alsoin Abhandlungen der Bohmischen Gesellschaft der Wissen-schaften, 4th ser., 5 (1837), 1-290; Hymenophyllaceae. Eine botanische Abhandlungen (Prague, 1844), also ibid., 5th ser., 3 (1845), 93-162; Supplementum tentaminis pteridographiae, continens genera et species ordinum dictorum Marattiaceae, Ophioglossaceae, Osmundaceae,’ Schizaeaceae et Lygodiaceae (Prague, 1846), also ibid., 5th ser., 4 (1847), 261-380; and Epineliae botanicae (Prague, 1851), also ibid., 5th sen, 6 (1851), 361-624.

II. Secondary Literature. See R. E. Holttum, “A Commentary on Some Type Specimens of Ferns in the Herbarium of K. B. Presl,” in Novitates botanicae Institutus botanici Universitatis Carolinae (1968), 3-57; and Frans A. Stafleu, “Taxonomic Literature. A Selective Guide to Botanical Publications With Dates, Commentaries and Types,” in Regnum vegetabile, 52 (1967), 365-367.

A. C. Jermy

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Presl, Karel Boriwoj

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